Lack of state funding for transportation is no surprise to most Fairfax County residents. Congested roads in Northern Virginia make news, not only here, but in surveys around the nation.
Just how dire the situation is was demonstrated last week when the Board of Supervisors held a required public hearing on the Proposed Virginia Department of Transportation Six-Year Secondary System Construction Program for Fiscal Years 2011 Through 2016. The total amount under discussion was $1,989. That’s not a typo – the state reduced its allocation to Fairfax County by 99 percent! Beginning in FY 2012, the entire program will be zeroed out.
In 2003, the Six-Year Program allocated $138 million to Fairfax County; the county revisits and adjusts the planned projects each year, depending on length and cost of projects, differing land uses, etc. In 2004, the amount increased to $153 million, but the trend has been down in subsequent years, and slid right off the page this year. Several road projects in other parts of the county came off the list, because of insufficient funding. Perhaps the greatest impact for Mason District is that the program contains no funding for traffic signals or traffic calming. Many neighborhoods use traffic calming programs, including speed humps, to address the speed and volume of vehicles on local roads. In response to my question as to whether any further applications for the program would be accepted, transportation staff said that applications could be processed, but no money is available for installation of speed control devices beyond this fiscal year. This is bad, and sad, news. Fairfax County provides nearly 25 percent of the state’s individual income tax liability, 13 percent of the local option sales tax receipts, and almost 20 percent of recordation/ deed of conveyance taxes, so it is incredible, indeed insulting, that the Secondary Road Program allocation is less than $2,000. It probably cost more than that to prepare, advertise, and conduct the public hearing!
Transportation funding is a hot issue, which is why the Commonwealth is anxious to hand off the responsibility to local governments. Without adequate state dollars on the table, however, local governments cannot move to place that burden on real estate taxpayers who already fund more than 63 percent of the county’s General Fund. The state must find or create revenues that will support the statewide need for maintenance of what is already built. Roads and bridges in Virginia sustain an incredible amount of traffic wear and tear, but maintenance is negligible. State road crews struggle to keep up with the demand, but the failure is not theirs. The failure lies with decision-makers in Richmond. Promising to pay for transportation needs with revenue from oil drilling leases off the coast of Virginia was a clever campaign ploy, but even when drilling seemed to be an eventual reality, the funds wouldn’t flow for several more years. With the Gulf oil spill (too simple a word for such an environmental and economic catastrophe) creating headlines, drilling off Virginia’s coast is folly for sure now. And we are still left with no statewide solution. Is anybody listening in Richmond?
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org